The Last of Us is a franchise at its best when juxtaposing the brutality of a post-apocalyptic world with the beauty of smaller, personal moments. Unlike last year’s Paris Games Week trailer, which leaned uncomfortably heavily on cultist grotesqueries, the E3 trailer for The Last of Us Part II struck the poignant balance for which the series is known. The video features an extended look at the sequel’s bracing and gory gameplay, but it opens and closes with a rare moment of LGBTQ representation in a AAA video game. It’s a moment made all the more notable by the fact that Sony chose to show it as the first trailer of its press briefing at gaming’s biggest event.
There have certainly been LGBTQ characters in big-budget games before, but Ellie stands out as an openly gay player character protagonist. “I hope that that’s just the first of many forms of representation across the video game world,” says Westworld’s Shannon Woodward, who joins the voice cast of TLOU Part II as Ellie’s best friend and romantic interest, Dina.
When the trailer opens, Ellie is standing on the sidelines of a party, watching Dina energetically dancing with a male partner. Dina’s ex, Jesse, then enters and strikes up a conversation with Ellie. Ellie quips that Dina and Jesse will be back together in a week, but Dina dismisses Jesse and pulls Ellie onto the dance floor. Once Jesse has left, Ellie and Dina share an intimate conversation and a kiss.
“It’s so damn sweet,” says Woodward. “I mean it’s so sweet.”
This section of the trailer, before the cutaway to Ellie’s graphic fight for survival, represents Ellie’s starting point in TLOU Part II. Ellie, now 19, has been living in Jackson for four years since the ending of The Last of Us, and those intervening years have been largely peaceful. “She’s had an opportunity to invest more in her relationships and to not spend every day worrying about her own survival,” says TLOU Part II co-writer Halley Gross (Westworld). “She’s gotten an opportunity to have friends, to have crushes.”
Dina, whom Ellie has had a crush on for years, is sarcastic and confident, balancing out Ellie’s self-consciousness. “She’s very funny and charming,” Woodward says of Dina, “or she certainly thinks she’s funny. Ellie thinks so, which is lucky for her.”
The Last of Us was laser-focused on the father-daughter relationship between Ellie and Joel, who is referenced in the E3 trailer but not seen, but TLOU Part II seems like it could be introducing another central relationship for Ellie. However, Gross promises that Joel will still play a vital role in Ellie’s arc in one way or another, and the secret that Joel kept from Ellie regarding the Fireflies and a potential cure for the infection will factor into the story. “To shy away from where The Last of Us 1 ended would be to avoid some truth to their relationship, and we want to explore all parts of who Ellie is.”
Based on Ellie’s vengeful attitude in the initial announcement trailer for TLOU Part II, it seems likely that something bad is going to happen to someone Ellie cares about. Gross hints that just as Ellie has built up a sense of stability and security, her world is “upended by a large event that happens in Jackson that changes her and sends her on this journey of vengeance, or justice.” Whatever this event is, Gross says, “It’s a moment in Ellie’s life that will irreparably change her and devastate her soul.”
The inclusion of Dina as a love interest could signal an impending heartbreak, but that would be a shame, as it would feed into the narrative trope of killing off LGBTQ characters. Still, the next logical option would be something souring her relationship with Joel, which would also be devastating for players who’ve become invested in his character.
So far, response to Ellie and Dina’s budding romance has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Woodward and Ashley Johnson, who plays Ellie. There were no overt references to Ellie’s sexual orientation in the main game of The Last of Us, but Johnson has already had a chance to get some feedback on the issue from fans who played the first game’s prequel DLC, Left Behind.
“I think a lot of people maybe thought that that was experimentation for Ellie in the DLC, and I think this trailer confirmed that Ellie is gay,” says Johnson. “A lot of people are going to have some type of a response to that. It’s definitely time. That is a community that needs to be represented in video games.”
Whatever happens, The Last of Us Part II will surely be devastatingly emotional, but for now, based on what little glimpse of happiness has been shown, it seems like it’s one of the few games from major studios that’s making an effort to represent inclusive love in a real, respectful way.